Review of Children of Heaven
by Anurupa Pal, 4th Semester
Bacheha- Ye- Aseman is a 1997 Iranian family drama film directed by Majid Majidi. Translated as ‘Children of Heaven’ , this was the first Iranian film to be nominated for the Academy Award for the Best foreign Language Film. The film, shot in Tehran, uses Persian with English sub-titles.
While some people have considered it to be a children’s movie, I would say that the film is for people of all ages, all classes and all countries. The plot is appealing and I think that the performance of the actors/ actresses is mind blowing. In fact, it has contributed significantly to the success of the film.
If I were to choose the main character in the play, I would choose an inanimate object- ‘shoes’. The entire story revolves around the loss of a pair of shoes and a brother’s efforts to make up for the loss.
In the film, the ‘shoes’ are not just simple apparatus for wearing for the convenience of walking. It means so much more. The pair of shoes symbolizes poverty, lack of the ability of a family to buy something very basic for their child. It symbolizes a child’s efforts to meet this basic need without having to burden the father who is already drowned in debts. The shoes as they wear out with time symbolizes that life must go on , even if it required running on those worn-out shoes.
Zahra attends the morning school wearing her brother, Ali’s sneakers and at the ringing of the last bell, runs as fast as her little legs would carry her to exchange shoes with Ali, who then rushes off to attend the afternoon classes. And this becomes their life.
When Zahra discovers that a girl in her school had her lost shoes, she and Ali follows the girl to her home. But they soon find that the girl’s father was blind and the family was in a situation worse than theirs. The brother-sister duo then refuses to claim the shoes back.
Ali asks or rather begs the sports teacher at school to allow to participate in the race. The teacher is more than amazed at the at the speed of the nine year old.
The race begins and the plot gradually reaches its climax. Determination to win is written on the face of each participant but something more than this is evident on Ali’s face. The boy , running with his fists closed tight, his teeth clenched, sweat pouring down his head to the toe- Ali runs as fast as he can, as if his life depended on it. Our hearts skip a bit when another participant pushes him down. In his mind’s eye, Ali could see Zahra running with all her might to exchange the shoes- struggling with over-sized shoes and anxiety and determination evident on her face. Ali now rises up and completes the race.
No wonder Ali wins the race. For him and his sister, life itself has been a race. Ali knows that life has to go on , even if he falls, he has to rise and keep going as if nothing has happened. He has always been a champion in his life- running all the time, trying to make do without things which are essential and missing.
Running- that’s what he and Zahra has been doing all their life – racing against time, racing against adversities, racing to keep life going.
When Ali realizes that he is running ahead of others , he tries to slow down to let other two participants pass ahead of him. We feel his helplessness and disappointment when he crosses the red ribbon and realizes that he has won the first prize. He looks longingly at the sneakers which he would have won had he secured the third position in the race. The absurdity of the situation makes his disappointment more poignant. For him, standing third was harder than winning the race. He had failed in his mission.
One look at his face and Zahra knew he hadn’t got the sneakers. But there is nothing either of them can do other than accepting the circumstances.
The last scene brings out the beauty and innocence of childhood and the pangs of poverty that tries to engulf it. Ali had failed in securing the sneakers and in the process , his old shoes- the only pair of shoes that the siblings had- were almost torn apart. Ali lowered his bare feet – swollen and covered with painful blisters, into the small tank. And we see a beautiful sight- the little, bright orange and yellow fish swims closer to attend to his wounds. Maybe they had realized that these weren’t just blisters but the marks that the harsh reality had etched on a kid who was trying to make it a little less harsh.
Not only is the plot intriguing but also the cinematography is excellent. The frequent use of the tracking shot which follows the running feet of the siblings in their worn out shoes makes it quite interesting. It not only focuses on the characters’ struggle but also produces an effect which makes us feel as if the entire plot is always running and rushing. The close up shots like the one which shows Ali’s face when he pictures Zahra running in those shoes, while he is in the race, makes us feel for him- his helpless state and his determination.
Innocent, pure, sincere – that’s what these kids are and that’s what heaven is like. The scene which shows Ali and Zahra playing with soap bubbles and smiling contentedly , does justice to the title of movie.